Embrace a new day on the free, guided morning walks in the Karoo National Park. By Ron Swilling

“These paths are natural,” ranger-guide Gregory Fish told me as the sun slowly rose behind the Nuweveld Mountains, the quintessential flat-topped mountains of the Karoo. “They follow tracks the zebra have made on their way to the waterhole.” Once abundant in the area, the Cape mountain zebra competed for grazing with domestic stock and was gradually eradicated by early farmers. Fortunately the 93,000-hectares covered by the Karoo National Park now boasts a healthy population again.

Lions had also been common in the area, but were shot out in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Things changed dramatically in the park when nine lions were introduced in 2010 and another two in 2013.  Bringing nature back into balance meant that more caution was needed in the park. A predator-proof fence was erected, guests were no longer allowed to get out of their vehicles in the game area and the 11,4km Pointer Trail became a shorter, guided morning walk.

GregoryFishKarooRanger-RonSwilling

Ranger-guide Gregory Fish, an expert in all things Karoo.

As we wandered along, Gregory pointed out various fascinating plant species, some of which he quizzed me on later. Anchor bush Pentzia incana, is the small sweet-smelling plant favoured by grazers, which gives Karoo lamb its special flavour. A clump of plants he called a ‘deurmekaar bush’ was a symbiosis of plant species that live together, some providing protection from animals with sharp thorns, others with bitter tannin. There were majestic mountain aloe and kapokbos with its small puffy white flowers that carpet the ground like snow in the windy month of August. He sprinkled water on the hard fruit of a small succulent (Gibbaeum) commonly referred to as ‘ostrich toes’, and I watched in awe as it opened. “It’s a gedaanteverwisseling,” he said, using the Afrikaans word to describe the incredible transformation of a plant blessed with a few drops of water, revealing how precious water is in the Karoo.

“We are in the game area now, so we must use our senses,” Gregory told me after we had crossed over the electrified, predator-proof fence. The trail climbs onto the plateau, giving a clear view of the layout of the park, the valleys enclosed by the mountains and Beaufort West in the distance. A pair of Verreaux’s eagles were raising a chick on the point, so we skirted the area, spotting gemsbok, baboons on a rocky ridge, red hartebeest on the plains below and identifying various tracks and droppings along the way.

And the lions? Although the possibility of encountering large predators certainly adds a touch of excitement, the lions are well monitored and park rangers ensure they are not in the near vicinity when visitors are walking the trail.

About the walk

The 2,5km trail takes approximately 2,5 hours, depending on the participants. Times for the guided walk are 06:00 in summer and 07:00 in winter. The walk takes place only when there are no guided drives scheduled for the morning. Reserve your place beforehand at reception.

Trip planner

Getting there Situated about 500km north of Cape Town and some 1,000km south of Johannesburg, Karoo National Park is an ideal place to break a journey along the N1.

Accommodation: The shaded grassy campsite must be one of the best in the country. R205 a night base rate for one or two people, R72 an extra adult, R36 an extra child. Cape Dutch-style cottages for self-catering cost from R1,000 a night for one or two people, R290 an extra adult, R145 an extra child. The camp has a restaurant that is open for breakfast and dinner, as well as a swimming pool for those hot Karoo days.

Bookings: SANParks Central Reservations +27 (0)12 428 9111, www.sanparks.org